FREMONT COUNTY — Colorado’s investment in firefighting resources is offering help beyond stopping fires.
It is especially true of helitack teams with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
They are collaborating with Search and Rescue teams from across the state.
“Our pilots are extremely, extremely proficient at what they do. Mountain flying is one of the most dangerous things a pilot could face and we are lucky to have some really good pilots on staff,” said Division of Fire Preventions and Control, Canon Helitack Manager, Brian Crowley.
Crowley and his team are leading “hover step” training at their base near Canon City in Fremont County.
Multiple search and rescue teams from the region spend a day in the classroom and then head outside to practice getting in and out of a helicopter that never fully touches the ground.
“We can hover about a foot off of the ground, and then insert or extract the rescuers,” said Crowley.
The practice happens in controlled conditions to increase comfort and skills when transport is needed to high altitude steep mountain terrain.
“Utilizing this step operation, we can actually insert folks at thirteen-five, thirteen-seven [thousand feet], you know, just below summits as opposed to having to hike with a 60-pound rescue pack from the valley floor,” said Jonathan Wiley with Custer County Search and Rescue.
The Search and Rescue teams doing the training are from Alamosa, Custer County, and Chaffee County.
There are 22 of Colorado's fourteener mountains in the regions they serve.
“So approximately 40%, just slightly under 40%,” said Wiley
The mountains with peaks reaching above 14,000 feet continue to attract a growing number of adventurers who want to take on the challenge of summiting the landmarks.
It also means many very challenging high mountain missions for Search and Rescue teams in rural counties.
Most of Colorado’s Search and Rescue teams operate with volunteers and little funding.
The chopper collaboration is welcome support.
“It’s giving us an opportunity to be fresher, more aware, less fatigue, as a rescuer to affect the rescue,” said Wiley.
It also has to happen with skill, caution, and quickly.
“The small details matter, especially in aviation,” said Crowley, “A small mistake can have catastrophic consequences.”
The extra duty for the helicopters is only “when available”.
It is because the main purpose of the state resource is first to help put out wildfires as soon as possible.
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